Friday, March 27, 2009

Avoiding Cliches

Editors look for fresh writing. They want to read original analogies, similes and metaphors not overused phrases. Hot under the collar and as happy as a pig in mud carry meaning, but the meaning is trite and readers skim over the words without noticing so they lose the impact of what you’re saying.

As you work on your novels, especially as you create emotion or use descriptions of people or places, you can make your writing more memorable to readers by finding new ways to describe what the character sees.

I’ve used this example before, but here it is again. In romance, how many times can a heroine’s heart flutter or can she become breathless? These phrases are found in most romance novels, including mine, but I have worked hard to come up with new ways to express these feelings of emotion. One of my books has an examples that demonstrates this. The heroine Jemma has just met her mother-in-law’s cousin, Philip. Jemma and Philip are saying goodbye in Claire’s boutique. Jemma and her mother-in-law, Claire had very miserable marriages and are both widows.

A summer pinwheel whirled in Jemma’s chest. No one gave her that much kind attention, not even Lyle. She murmured her thanks and sat nailed to her seat while Claire followed him toward the side door. His rich, genial voice drifted from the hallway.

Drawn to follow, Jemma rose and hovered behind them. Before he disappeared through the door, Philip gave her a summer-breeze smile, sending her internal pinwheel on another merry spin.

Notice how a summer pinwheel provides the same breathless flutter yet allows me to avoid the cliche phrase “her heart fluttered.” With the pinwheel analogy set up, I used the idea again in the next paragraph with references to his “summer-breeze” smile, sending her internal pinwheel on another merry spin.

This is so much more effective and creates more dynamic word pictures than using the trite phrases. Readers will remember this image.

Other examples:
Cliche: She was at the end of her rope.
Original: She stood on the edge, watching the cliff corrode beneath her feet.

Cliche: He was smart as a whip
Original: He answered every question with the speed of a NASCAR racer.

The original offers us the same meaning but with fresh images and concepts.

Cliche’s can be used dialogue if it fits the characterization. Most people use them in daily conversations, but don’t overuse trite language in your writing. Those phrases are skimmed by readers who’ve heard them so many times. Instead find creative ways to say the same thing, even in dialogue if it works with the character.

To see the kinds of cliche’s that should be avoided in your writing, here’s a wonderful website where you can find an amazing list of trite language by clicking from Laura Hayden's "Left-Brain- Right Brain/Creativity Program."


MiketheBook said...

Thanks for the article Gail. Readers may be interested to know there is a very cheap software program called Cliche Cleaner which helps to recognize cliches and overused words in ones writing. I thoroughly recommend it. See the web-site:

Teri Smith said...

You're always helpful, Gail!

Gail Gaymer Martin said...

Thanks, Teri. I'm glad I could add some things to think about, and Mike, I'll check out the clichecleaner. Sounds like it would work well.